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PSR Students Advise BMW on Sustainable Urban Mobility

Monday, June 18, 2018

by By Abhinaw Priyadershi, USC Viterbi School of Engineering, Master of Engineering Management, 2019

I and fellow PSR students were honored to be selected by the BMW Group to join their Student Dialogue, convened on June 6th, 2018 at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.  The goal was for students and BMW professionals to examine key questions related to the future of sustainable urban mobility. “Thirty-three students of eight different universities took part at our BMW Group Student Event,” noted Sabrina Artmann, BMW Group Steering Governmental and External Affairs, Sustainability Communications.  “The universities: Art Center College of Design, UC Los Angeles, UC Davis, University of Southern California, California State University Los Angeles, Claremont McKenna College, California State University Northridge, Boston University.”  PSR was proud to be represented by students from three PSR universities, and students came from both urban planning and engineering perspectives.  “The event was great!” shared Kevin Barrow, USC Master of Planning student.  “We got to speak directly to BMW about the future of BMW. We also were able to see how a car company was looking to keep themselves relevant in a world of transportation that includes active transportation (walking, electric scooters, bike share), and public transit.  I learned that a business model is only as good as what the future holds - you have to shape it rather than allow it to come to you. BMW realized that it needs to be involved in how the near future of transport is happening, and they are making changes to secure their spot as an important stakeholder in the ever-evolving transportation debate.”

At the event, student participants addressed the following major questions through live polls and workshop sessions. 

  • What are the biggest challenges for urban mobility in Los Angeles, specifically in comparison to other cities?
  • What are the reasons for the current situation in Los Angeles?
  • What kind of mobility products and services are needed to help achieve the region’s goals?
  • What could be the role of the BMW Group in Los Angeles?
  • What should the BMW Group do to be accepted as a driver of sustainable urban mobility in your city?

“The BMW Group Dialog was a good opportunity to not only hear the industry perspective on mobility but, at the same time, the point of view of students from different majors and schools,” remarked USC Master of Planning student Camila Araújo. “The open dialog structure of the event made it easy to interact with BMW employees and other students and to discuss the different topics proposed by the organization.  The presentations made by the BMW group were so informative and interesting because they showed the technologies and approach the company is using around the world,” she added.

Together with BMW Group experts, I and fellow student participants discussed the specific topics in small working groups and used Lego Serious Play for the visualization of ideas. We were divided into team of students and BMW Group professionals; my team’s topic was “Seamless Mobility,” headed by Lisa Errion-Saums, Vice President Government and External Affairs Americas, BMW of NA, and Thiemo Schalk, Future Mobility Team BMW Group.

PSR Students at BMW Mobility Group Discussions

The first workshop started with a brainstorming session. This session focused on significant hurdles to achieving seamless mobility such as varied customer preferences, lack of integrated platforms, and merging barriers for private and public transportation sector.

The second workshop began with a task to design a future e-mobility vehicle with a carrying capacity of 6-8 persons using Lego Play series visualization. Our team focused on catering to customer needs and decided our ideal model would reduce the waiting period of our passengers. Ultimately, we came up with an idea of a light motorized vehicle which could cover short distances and contiguous neighborhoods.

I had the opportunity to present our group ideas from the two workshop sessions in front of the BMW experts and audience. After my and other presentations the BMW team answered questions and discussed their thoughts on the future of mobility and how BMW Group can contribute to this future.

Direct interaction with the top tier of OEM such as BMW was a pleasant surprise for all of us. They were not only listening but also throughout the sessions guiding us to keep our ideas feasible.  We were also thrilled to get a behind-the-scenes look at the BMW 7 Series and the BMW I8.

“There was a ton of collaboration and a pleasant pace and atmosphere throughout the entire event,” noted Barrow.“I was surprised that BMW was interested in branching out from their tried-and-proven business model and was looking to make serious changes within their company. Car companies traditionally have not cared about things other than what directly impacts their bottom line.I went to hopefully influence BMW to consider using their brand to take away the extreme stigma from public transit - bringing luxury and a nice experience to public transit while allowing BMW to branch out into a new market. My career plans overall is international development. That can range from regional transportation to complete-streets and economic development in neighborhoods and low income areas that need it the most, but my mission is to help those who need it the most overseas.”

This event provided us the opportunity to contribute to the ever changing landscape of the automotive industry, and afforded us insights on sustainability and how regular and meaningful stakeholder engagement is essential in our approach to sustainability. We also learned how long-term thinking and responsible actions form the basis of business success. I and my fellow PSR participants greatly appreciated the support of PSR and the BMW Group, and hope we are afforded the chance to be a part of events like these in future. 

About the Author:

Abhinaw Priyadershi is a Master of Engineering Management Student at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and is the Operational and Administrative Lead for the 2018 National Travel Monitoring  Exposition and Conference (NaTMEC). He is interested in operational management, with a particular interest in sustainability, and is fascinated by autonomous and self-driving cars. He can be reached at [email protected]